Washington braces for long, hot summer slog of politics

WASHINGTON (AP) — The nation’s capital is bracing for a long, hot summer, and that’s not even counting the weather.

The White House is immersed in allegations of scandal. Congressional Republicans are ensnared in their own divisions.

Instead of movement on health care, taxes and more, GOP control figures to produce a grim summer slog as lawmakers and the Trump administration grind it out into August and beyond.

That’s traditionally summer vacation time in Washington, D.C., when Congress goes on a five-week recess, and much of the rest of the town follows suit to escape the stultifying heat and humidity.

Not this year. With Republicans six months into full control of Congress and the White House but with practically nothing to show, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced the Senate would stay in session an extra two weeks, into mid-August.

Whether results will improve remains to be seen. The Senate is currently tied in knots trying to produce the “Obamacare” repeal-and-replace bill Republicans have promised for years. Bunkered in the White House as Russia-U.S. election details unspool, President Donald Trump has not been seen for days, though he did grant an interview to the Christian Broadcasting Network to announce he’d be “very angry” if Congress fails to produce on health care.

Despite Trump’s low approval ratings and the relentless developments involving Russia’s election meddling — which now feature Donald Trump Jr. in a starring role — the president still commands loyalty from a significant slice of the GOP base. So few elected Republicans want to cross him by criticizing him over Russia, much less provoke his anger.

It’s all adding up to frustration, even misery, for Republicans who’ve seen their ambitions thwarted on many fronts. And the merciless summer slog may prove the fitting metaphor for an administration that’s brought stasis and dysfunction to new levels in Washington.

“Unfortunately the president has not united people,” moderate Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said. “And so that’s made it a difficult time to serve, by far the most difficult of the 20 years that I’ve been here.”

Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., refused to discuss the first six months of the year, but offered a withering historical critique of Congress in general. “This institution is stunningly dysfunctional,” Sasse said.

Health care is not the only issue vexing Republicans. Divisions on taxes, government spending and infrastructure raise doubts about whether the GOP can chalk up any major legislative achievements before 2018 re-election campaigns heat up. And the split over spending even creates the possibility of a government shutdown at the end of September.

Some Republicans are quick to point fingers, with the traditional resentments between the House and the Senate reaching new levels. House Republicans, who’ve already managed to pass a health care bill, snipe at their counterparts.

GOP Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky offered this on Twitter: “If a mechanic had ur car from January to July and didn’t fix a thing, would you insist he keep working on it in August?”

Democrats derive some pleasure from their opponents’ difficulties, but they, too, have little desire to hang around Washington. And many don’t bother to hide their resentment.

“We’re waiting to see if the Republicans can get past the scandals and get their act together,” said Rep. Linda Sanchez of California. “The president and the Republican Congress promised a bold agenda that was going to help those who are struggling, and I haven’t seen much of an actual agenda or anything bold.”